“This blog is the unfolding story of Rush Farm and an exploration of life by its philosopher farmer.”
Normally I am, as I am sure you have noticed, of a sunny disposition and a cuddly nature, but this has been sorely tested recently.
Now I can once again see with some clarity the television screen, we have been watching a range of detective series from the last century. First thing to remark on is how one is left with impression that existence without alcohol is impossible. That is bad enough, but pales into insignificance against the volume of inane and often totally misleading adverts – it all makes one realise how puerile so much of our society is.
My brother-law fortunately pulled me out the abyss with the ditty below. Those of you too young to have heard the Goon Show, or to have any knowledge of Spike Milligan have a huge gap in your experience. He may have been, to be politically correct, mentally unwell, but his was a bright light. I believe he wanted his tombstone to say ‘I told you I was ill’!!
Smiling is infectious,
you catch it like the flu,
When someone smiled at me today,
I started smiling too.
I passed around the corner and someone saw my grin.
When he smiled I realised I’d passed it on to him.
I thought about that smile,
then I realized its worth.
A single smile, just like mine
could travel round the earth.
So, if you feel a smile begin,
don’t leave it undetected.
Let’s start an epidemic quick,
and get the world infected!
Now to business. The event of the week was without question, the visit by the vet to carry out pregnancy testing, take blood samples, and remove the stitches she put in some time ago. It all sounds so simple, but if you are really to understand the life on a stock farm you need to know what is entailed. The first thing that would strike you is the need to get in amongst nearly 100 horned cattle, move them from one part of the barn to another holding area. At this time of year, they imagine they are being turned out into a pasture, so inevitably are a little excited and unhappy to discover this is not the case.
That is just the start. The animals now have to enter the “crush” (a piece of farm equipment that doesn’t crush them, but does hold them safe, one at a time so that they can receive treatment), and however many times they have experienced this, their response in understandably resigned. Once in the crush, a metal bar must be inserted behind them to help hold the cow steady and stop her backing out, while gates at the front need to be opened enough to hold the animal’s head safe – and the horns must be fitted through too of course.
The whole process is unbelievably far from the modern world, or the systems used in intensive practice, where human involvement is minimal. Here, for us, to hold a 700kg animal, the crush is of heavy steel, to shut the front gates and to put the restraining bar in requires real physical strength – far beyond my capabilities now, and to do this for each and every animal requires as many hands of deck as possible.
The vet to check for pregnancy does not stand there in her white coat using some cunning machine, she has to get in there with the cow, but not until she, the vet, is confident of her safety, which of course is ensured by the set up of the crush. Then to find out whether the cow is actually pregnant, she must push her arm into the animal as far as is necessary to discover if there is a foetus, and then estimate how old the foetus may be. If she is very lucky the cow will not evacuate its bowels or bladder on her!
Once the vet had determined the situation, the cow must be released and returned to where she came from, the information noted, and then the team, in this case Rosie and Boots, have to get the next animal into the crush, and so on for some 28 cows! We do have more, but of those not tested, the majority had calved very recently.
Finally, the young stock and the bull went through the crush for their blood tests, and then three hours later, Paula, Tim, Chris and the grandchildren can leave the site, tired but satisfied. For those of you who have little experience of bulls please discard the notion of a raging beast. Unless competing for the attention of a ’bulling’ cow, their movements are, to put it simply, ponderously slow. Stories involving accidents with cattle almost invariably involve cows.
The outcome was to learn that over the next 8 or so months we can hope for another 23 calves.
Let me conclude by reminding you that though large animals have to be treated with respect, our herd knows all of us involved, is walked through and between on a daily basis, and like most native beef breeds are by temperament docile and accepting.
You will want to know how the ewes are progressing given that lambing is edging ever closer. The ones carrying multiples, and any looking a little underweight have been split off and are now getting feed. Given that there has been a lot of chat on the pasture-fed site about others having much greater problems with prolapses this year than usual, we will drench ours in case we are facing mineral trace element problems which seems the case elsewhere.
No space for more except to record the scent of the plum trees and daffodils adds enormously to a walk round the garden, and to add a new offering from Danny:
I may well have written this before, but somehow this week, perhaps because I have had the extra day, the thoughts have been piling up in my head.
Deciding on personal priorities and ordering the final selection is never simple!
This week, since I have a poem I intend to share, I do at least know the topic of the final paragraph. I think the only order and selection I can go with can be emotional rather than intellectual, and trust it makes some sense to you, despite it being something of a mish mash.
What I am certain of this that only a few of my original ideas will fit in!
Inevitably, despite my best efforts, including not taking a newspaper, ‘that interview’ proved inescapable. Nonetheless it did rather play into a theme I have been writing about for some months. That, I remind you, was that to imagine a closeness between us and the Americans was wishful thinking. It appears that the interview demonstrated yet other cultural differences.
Our society has celebrities, usually short-lived and normally created by the media. Created by the media for mixed reasons; to fill gaps, to entertain and finally to shoot down in flames.
You may, as a new celebrity, of whatever category, have your moment of glory, but be sure you will pay for it. Celebrity interviews in this country are usually about self-promotion and that is never hidden. Having said that, I think even the much missed ‘Old Codger’ Terence Wogan might have been left feeling slightly queasy.
On the other hand, serious meaningful interviews are just that. Waffle is not tolerated, nor spurious allegations.
Allegations about others, especially those unable to respond are not accepted.
Bizarrely, Oprah Winfrey is not only regarded as the number one interviewer over there but is actually a huge celebrity in her own right. Her own team made the ‘show,’ including the selected ‘important’ words uttered. They have subsequently had to shell out substantial sums for their selective requoting about which, has the lady herself apologised – of course not.
One does inevitably wonder how Oprah Winfrey might do if grilled by Mathis or Paxman, let alone John Freeman or Andrew Neil, but somehow, I doubt she would allow such an interview to take place.
I am left with the image of the gap between the, in so many ways, ignorant soul, up against two highly professional and experience operators.
To other thoughts, I was veering towards considering myself a European, but for a number of reasons have abandoned that. The most obvious one has obviously been, not language, but culture and history. I have of late spent too much time immersed in Central and southern European history to try and recognise any cultural or social similarities.
More recently I have been staggered by the management of Europe’s Covid vaccination programme.
For heaven’s sake, we suffer enough here from gold-plated bureaucracy, but to see what happens when you have twenty seven at work together is all but unbelievable.
Inevitably, I come back to what I see as the defining difference, and some of you may well remember my comments after reading the book The Culture of Defeat: On National Trauma, or Otherwise Mourning and Recovery by Wolfgang Schivelbusch.
National defeat has a long-lasting effect, not least in terms of a sense of victimisation and humiliation. Add to that the feelings that arise at both the personal and societal level when the balance between giving and receiving is out of kilter and you have, I suggest, a plausible justification. Should you doubt that statement just think a moment – it is almost too easy to think of examples, but I have no wish to be provocative.
So where does that leave me, English born, with ancestors so insular that, unless you regard Cornwall as a separate nation I can “claim” as far back as records go, my roots have failed to benefit from any inflow of ‘foreignness’. Admittedly I do hold a landed immigrant pass – dating from 1968 – for Canada, and have family there, but even so! Moreover, I know, even before I open my mouth, I self-identify in a host of ways.
If only our leadership could recognise that the days of glory, if that is what they were, are long gone and view ourselves as we actually are. If you doubt me look at the speech by the Prime Minister in which he tells us what “Global Britain” means – but of course ducks the impossibility of funding.
Mentioning Canada reminds me that earlier this week I was talking with a Canadian family member about the war between that country and America in 1812-1814, which, together with a number of other events, ensured that Canada established its own culture and sense of identity.
It is often, forgotten, ignored or downplayed, but the establishment of what became the United States was accompanied by a substantial movement of loyalists and their allies’ northwards. At that time, Canada was made up of several constituent parts. In the North was Rupert’s Land (yes that Prince Rupert), lying to the south of the ill-defined vast area of the North West Territories, which were either in the ownership of the Hudson Bay Company or managed as though they were (though for the sake of accuracy I should say that there was intense rivalry ‘up there’ between a French trading company, and the British resolved at some time in the 1820’s).
The English-speaking part, we now know as Ontario, was known as ‘Upper Canada’ and was joined, after 1759, by the French speaking area of Quebec, while the ‘loyalists, occupied the Maritimes.
It had been Jefferson’s ambition to seize control of the entire northern part of the continent – as of course was achieved in the South in due course – so in 1812 the Americans attacked. Somewhat to their surprise, they were not welcomed with open arms and defeat eventually followed. A seminal moment in Canadian and world history.
While all this was going on, Britain was heavily enmeshed in the power struggle with France that we now know as the Napoleonic period.
France had been both a major distraction to the British in the late 1780’s, at the time the North American Colonies sought independence, and was of course a committed supporter of that movement. It is easy enough to forget that in the conflict, the British, had to rely heavily on mercenary support, largely from Hesse, because unlike most countries, ever since the Civil War, no large standing army was maintained.
Also easily overlooked is a sudden change in government in London that called back home Cornwallis with the bulk of the undefeated British army.
French power was on the wane when the attempt to invade Canada took place, and without that, and popular support the enterprise was doomed.
The next step towards nationhood and self-government was the Durham Report of 1839, which began the process in 1840 of welding the two parts of Upper and Lower Canada into one Province. Another seminal step.
Although the transfer by the British government of the Hudson Bay holding, actual and assumed, together with Rupert’s Land in 1870, was part of this process, if my reading of history is correct, it was in fact the First World War which cemented the process of making Canada, and it is that feeling of ‘not being American’ which helps when difficult issues of language and ethnicity stir the waters.
To digress, the report of 1839 made it very clear that self-government was to be the government’s aim, and this was essentially true at all times, for all colonies, though politics blurs this often enough.
Also, worth remembering is that the aims of most independence movements associated with British territories owed much to ideas expressed in Britain, and to the educational ideas picked up by future national leaders.
I may well have remarked before on our splendid lack of preparedness for our time in Africa. Getting off the boat at Capetown, apartheid was the first shock, poverty the second, but there were many more. Arriving at Ndola, centre of The Copperbelt, we were told our ‘postings’ and discovered our home was to be in Kawambwa – it can be found on a map!
What we were not told, was that our road took us through the Congo pedicure, still a war zone. Drunken soldiers with machine guns were a disturbing sight, but Anne hunkered down, and we got through. The road, of course was unpaved, and the corrugations non-stop. We later learnt that the only comfortable way to cope was to drive at at least 70mph, but we were in a pickup and felt every ridge in the road.
Apologies, I have allowed myself to wander off topic, which was that we found we had no electricity, and no means of listening to music. At Christmas, an intrepid couple we had met on the boat travelled up to meet us, and they brought a portable gramophone player. I will mention their surname because in due course Chris Bickerton became the BBC’s voice of Africa and his eventual death was mourned by millions.
In our ignorance, we had taken a selection of LP’s, a mix of pop and classical. We rapidly found that the only music we could continue to enjoy was that by Sydney Bechet and Brahms. All this to share with you that, for three days, I played Brahms violin sonatas on my CD player and discovered the majesty of his compositions. I quote:
“As shown by the opus numbers, the violin sonatas all come from his maturity and give off an unrivalled richness. Nevertheless, complete recordings of all three have tended to come along rarely, for some reason. They speak of the best of their time, and not just in music. I listen to them and think of writers like Eliot, Dickens, and Tolstoy – the complex textures, the depth of thought”.
Played through the headphones, at a reasonable sound level, they are absolutely mesmerising. In fact, after three long sessions, I had to give it a rest as my brain was starting to feel scrambled. I suppose I should say the performers were de Vito and either Fischer or Aprea.
We all, I guess, know that one of the strengths, and hence weaknesses of our language is the way in which usage causes words to change their meaning. Leaving to one side the variety of words that may now have sexual or racial meanings, how about the word ‘show’. Have you noticed that news programmes are now called shows – yet surely ‘show’ suggests performance, and has a quite different meaning from ‘programme’, though I accept most performances have programmes…
However, there is a group of words whose misuse really irritates. At school, aside from a period of music and one of art each week we also had a period of PE or physical education and a double period of games. In the summer term, those of that mind could do sports, which meant things like running and jumping. Games involved teams, required adherence to rules, and co-operation between team members, and win or lose, certain behaviour was expected of you.
But over and above all that these activities required spontaneous responses to changing circumstances. Sports were about individual expertise and relentless exercise – hardly social activity in any way.
Like I am sure many of you, I watched Torville and Dean perform Bolero, and admired their efforts incredulously. But it was a performance, not a game as I would understand it. And ice skating in this regard is no different from gymnastics.
I suppose it is simply my age showing but, now I can see the television again though one eye, watching international rugby and cricket I realise neither bear any true relationship to the games I played and enjoyed so much.
No doubt this is all to do with money and professionalism. If after the Saturday game, you have to go to work on Monday this has to be taken into account. Today’s rugby players in terms of height, weight, speed and stamina are a totally different breed – it’s hard to tell whether they are more skilful since the ball they use is not leather, which absorbs water and becomes very, very slippery when wet. Moreover, so many substitutes are allowed that by the end of the game you are probably watching two different teams.
And how about cricket – manicured pitches, without grass, covered at the hint of rain; again, no thought of being able to work the next day. Helmets, padding almost everywhere and no mercy for the tail end rabbits.
Play is stopped at the hint of bad light…. Of course, when we played, fast bowlers were probably 10 miles an hour slower, and were very often more a challenge to the wicketkeeper, and of course certain shots were not in the book because they were basically suicidal.
Oh well. I have shared before that I now often watch women’s cricket. I can see the ball, and the players actually behave as if they are enjoying the game!
A last, perhaps bitter comment. In my day, the Oxford and Cambridge boats were crewed by undergraduates. That stopped at about the same time as the colleges adopted a modified American model by accepting postgraduate students who were also rowers…
There’s a breathless hush in the Close to-night—
Ten to make and the match to win—
A bumping pitch and a blinding light,
An hour to play and the last man in.
And it’s not for the sake of a ribboned coat,
Or the selfish hope of a season’s fame,
But his captain’s hand on his shoulder smote
‘Play up! play up! and play the game! ‘
This is the word that year by year,
While in her place the school is set,
Every one of her sons must hear,
And none that hears it dare forget.
This they all with a joyful mind
Bear through life like a torch in flame,
And falling fling to the host behind—
‘Play up! play up! and play the game!I